Category: Important Stuff

Raise Your Voice

The theme for Blog Action Day this year, oh-so appropriately, is Raise Your Voice.

Or Rattle That Lock, if you prefer.

To borrow from the Blog Action Day website:

We have the power to create the world we want to see when we raise our voice to promote positive change and expose unjust actions. However, those who speak out are often under attack. This Blog Action Day we will celebrate those heroes who raise their voice when faced with censorship, threats and even violence. We will raise our voices to defend their right to raise theirs. We will overcome silence with our words and actions. We will share their stories. We will fight for those whose voice has been silenced.

This Sunday, at KOKO in Camden Town, David will join with other artists to mark Belarus Free Theatre’s tenth anniversary. Performing will be those, like David, who are fortunate to live in a democracy (no sniggering at the back, please), as well as those from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine who have experienced intimidation and indeed persecution for speaking out in defence of their political and religious freedoms. The event, Staging a Revolution: I’m With the Banned, is sold out but BBC Arts will be live-streaming the event from 8pm (UK), so please tune in and lend your support.

Then there’s the incredible £17,495 you helped raise very recently in aid of MOAS, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station. That money will help rescue refugees from the Mediterranean who are fleeing their homelands in search of a better life in Europe. So many people have already died trying to make the perilous journey across the seas, and we’ve all been deeply saddened by the images, the most harrowing of all the sight of small children, drowned, washed ashore on beaches where children who do not yet realise how very fortunate they are to be born into peace and prosperity play without a care in the world.

Thank you again, everyone, for donating. Such a simple act of kindness and compassion can also be an effective way of making your feelings heard, and of speaking up for those being attacked by the intolerant and fearful for doing the very thing we all would do if we found ourselves in their dire circumstances.

There is so much that’s wrong with the world we live in, so much happening before our eyes that we know is unfair and immoral, but feel powerless to change. How often we willingly turn a blind eye, pretend we do not see, convincing ourselves that somebody else will speak out and demand change, doubtful that we can make any difference. Whether it be the plight of the homeless sleeping rough in our city centres, the destruction of our forests and parks, or the wilful abandonment of essential support for the most vulnerable in our communities, we must not shy away.

Thank goodness people do raise their voices loudly and confidently, and inspire, motivate, sometimes shame others to speak up with them. They bring attention to critical issues and hold the powerful, whose selfish and short-sighted policies infuriate but will ultimately decimate, to account. How much worse things would be without them.

I read this week that support for fracking in the UK has fallen to its lowest level. This is because women, primarily, are becoming more aware of the dangers of extracting shale gas.

Few doubt the huge economic benefits, but by highlighting the dangers that the powerful lobbies too readily dismiss, more and more people are accepting that carbon should be left in the ground – for all our sakes – and are doing what they can to ensure that it’s kept there.

Legalising cannabis would have huge economic benefits, too. Another study reported in the press this week found that there would be an annual windfall of between £500m and £800m were cannabis treated in the same way as tobacco in Britain. This would save the under-pressure health service, as well as the struggling criminal justice system, because if people were no longer charged for possession of cannabis, there would be obvious savings to the police, courts, probation service and prisons.

Yet why do I strongly doubt that these economic benefits will matter to the same people who feel it is of course worth the grave risk to keep pushing the planet ever nearer global catastrophe, for cheap fuel? They know we need a low-carbon economy, but like a demented jockey with his whip, they will keep beating until something breaks because there’s an awful lot of money to be made from thrashing that poor horse.

I’m reminded of Dr John O’Connor, a family doctor in Fort Chipewyan, a hamlet in northern Alberta, Canada, who reported in 2006 a higher than normal incidence of rare cancers in his patients and suspected that these might be connected to the oil being extracted contaminating the environment on which this predominantly indigenous community is so closely connected, with carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, as well as heavy metals, like mercury and lead. He wasn’t the first to be suspicious. Locals downwind and downstream of the tar sands in Alberta (they cover an area about the size of Florida, don’t forget), had been trying for years to make others take their concerns seriously; fishermen had even collected deformed fish from Lake Athabasca and presented them to officials, not that anyone wanted to know.

Federal health regulators filed several misconduct charges against Dr O’Connor – including one of causing “undue alarm” (which says it all, really; after all, who is this upstart to hinder the rapid pace of growth?) – and he was eventually cleared of all charges, but earlier this year he was fired with no explanation.

The sinister reach of Big Oil?

It is said that doctors throughout Alberta are now fearful of offending the oil industry by confirming that its actions are having an impact on the health of their patients, which is utterly depressing but not in the least surprising when you look at the way, since 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has silenced and muzzled those who say that we need to scale back emissions-intensive industries if catastrophic global warming is to be avoided, rather than keep on exploiting our natural resources.

His ‘war on science’ has seen thousands of federally employed scientists, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as Environment Canada, laid off; environmental bodies such as the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Studies and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, a body seeking to regulate Canada’s carbon emissions, have been scrapped; numerous programmes devoted to food inspection and water quality have been cancelled; and academics are no longer free to communicate their findings to the media, as he favours unqualified bureaucrats over experts in their field to inform the public and, let’s not be naïve about this, deliberately mislead us into believing that everything is tickety-boo just as long as the oil keeps flowing.

We should dwell on facts like this:

If Alberta were a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than any other country in the world, more than three times that of either the USA or Canada.

Many more to make you weep, here.

Canada might have a new Prime Minister very soon, anyway, with a general election on Monday. More than two-thirds of Canadians think their oil-obsessed government should focus on diversifying the economy and favour a post-carbon economy by a margin of three to one.

So I thought I’d take a moment to remember those, like Dr O’Connor, who have spoken out, inspiring others to do likewise and to question everything we are told by the liars who write the news.

Like many blogging on this theme today, I wanted to also include my admiration for Raif Badawi, arrested in June 2012 on a charge of insulting Islam through electronic channels, of “violating Islamic values and propagating liberal thought”.

In July 2013, it was reported that he had been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In May 2014, he was re-sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison, as well as a fine of one million riyal (more than $250,000 or £170,000). Even that’s not considered punishment enough; Saudi Arabia’s criminal court now want to retry him for apostasy, commonly defined as the conscious abandonment of Islam by a Muslim in word or through deed. If found guilty, he would be sentenced to death. For blogging.

He championed free speech in such a violently repressive regime and may pay with his life. Meanwhile, cowardly western governments remain slow to condemn their oil-rich Saudi allies. I wonder why.

We all need to raise our voices much more.

Speaking out against injustice, shining a light on the bullying and corruption within our societies, if these inspirational people can raise their voice, the very least we ought to do is listen.

There are brilliant people in your communities, right now, using whatever means are at their disposal to fight to prevent closures to hospitals and libraries, blockading roads and impeding the progress of destructive industries, as well as brave whistleblowers exposing malpractice, so support them. March with them. Sign a petition, write a letter of objection, boycott and encourage others to do the same. Be one more person who demands to be taken seriously instead of taken for a fool. Do it for people like Raif Badawi, sitting in a prison cell not knowing when he’ll next be dragged out and publicly flogged – for blogging, for goodness sake.

Please, no matter how silly or self-conscious you feel, raise your voice – and keep rattling locks.